Aging In Place
New Technology Helps Seniors Stay In Their Homes Longer
As published in: Daily News Record
By: Jacquelyn Walsh
According to a March 2010 article in the New York Times, the average cost of nursing home care is $200 a day, not including additional fees for specialized services such as Alzheimer’s or dementia care. That amounts to roughly $6,000 a month and $72,000 annually to keep a parent or loved one in a nursing home.
With baby boomers approaching senior citizen status, these figures can be daunting for them and their children. But with technology moving at a rapid pace, new systems are helping seniors “age in place,” or live at home longer.
Elizabeth Roach, 71, of Harrisonburg had a Grand Care System installed in her home a few months ago. Her eldest son, Michael Murdock, came across the product at a technology convention in Florida, and now sells the product as owner of Enhanced Caring, a company based out of Aurora, Colo. Murdock also owns a home automation and integration company, Enhanced Living.
“We do all the cool high tech Jetson stuff to homes,” says Murdock, whose company installs high-tech security systems, home theater systems and now Grand Care Systems throughout the country.
“When I saw the Grand Care System, I thought ‘This is what my mother needs. This is a product that can change her life,’ ” says Murdock. “I am finally involved in a product that’s going to make a difference in the last years of people’s lives, and what I’m doing now makes a difference.”
The system focuses on three functions: communication, cognitive abilities and wellness.
It centers on a computer that allows the homeowner to keep in touch with the outside world and also collects information from sensors installed around the house, reporting data to designated caretakers.
Complete with a touch-screen monitor, this “computer” is free of the hassles of logging on, remembering passwords, downloading files and deleting spam, says Roach, so that she gets the technology of a computer with a simplicity geared toward a senior’s needs.
The computer system also gathers information from pressure mats installed under Roach’s chair and bed, motion sensors on her medicine cabinet and fridge, a heat sensor on the stove and panic buttons next to her bed, the bathtub and at the bottom of the basement stairs. These sensors signal alerts that send warning e-mails to designated people, such as Roach’s children, that lets them know if she hasn’t gotten up yet or has left the stove on for several hours. The system can communicate by sending texts, e-mails and phone calls to designated children or neighbors. This is used to alert these people if anything is out of the ordinary or Roach presses one of the panic buttons, which will also call 911.
Roach also logs on to the computer every morning and does a series of exercises that range from tic-tac-toe to trivia meant to strengthen cognitive functioning. With a scale and blood pressure monitor connected to the system, Roach weighs herself and checks her blood pressure each morning. The numbers are sent to the computer and tracked, showing any fluctuations and making the daily data available should the family wish to send it to a doctor.
“My mom is in pretty good health but she is getting older, so what we did was I got her a weight scale and blood pressure monitor and she checks it every day,” says Murdock. “We can take that information to the doctor and we can set up a rule [in the computer system] to alert someone when something isn’t normal. We don’t want to be intrusive on their lives and we don’t want to invade their privacy,” says Murdock.
With the information gathered from the sensors, Murdock can tell how long his mother sleeps each night and how long she sits in her favorite chair, most likely crocheting. These are not things he checks on constantly though, says Murdock, but uses to gauge patterns in her daily habits, and is alerted when something is wrong.
Roach was skeptical at first and worried about an invasion of her privacy, she says, but once installed, it became routine for her to use the system.
“Because there’s no cameras involved in it and people get into a normal routine of using it, it does not invade their privacy,” says Murdock. “It’s not like I check everything every day. I just find out when there’s something out of the [norm].”
The system costs about $8,000 to install and requires a monthly fee of about $75, more or less depending on what features you choose, says Murdock.
“As I get older I find that I want to stay home more. That’s why I retired,” says Roach. “I have very close relationships with family members; however, independence is important to me. With this system, I feel like I can be independent and know my family is a touch screen away.”
Because Roach lives alone with only one out of her four children nearby, it’s important to help the siblings communicate, says Murdock, a Spotswood High School graduate. “I miss being home and it has helped me as much as it has helped my mom — it gave me another avenue to communicate with her.”
In addition to the safety features, the system also offers more typical computer features. With the photo feature of the system, Roach’s children can upload photos of trips they’ve taken and Roach’s grandkids directly to her computer screen.
“I believe that the general reason behind it all, the core feeling, is that people want to age in place, no one wants to go to a facility,” says Murdock, who says he got the system mainly for communication and the brain exercises.
These systems are not only for those seniors in their last years of their life, Murdock said. It’s important for seniors to begin using the system early on so it becomes second nature for them.
For Roach and Murdock, the new technology has been a blessing for the whole family.
“We’ve distributed the responsibility of caring for my mother to all four children and we’re thousands of miles apart. It’s absolutely changed our lives,” says Murdock. “She feels more connected than ever, and that’s priceless to me.”
Roach and Murdock were featured in a July article of The New York Times, and will be featured on a Discovery Channel special about baby boomers and aging in place in November.